Sometimes lifelong friends come from the most random of places and in the case of the Santos family of Denair, it was a simple advertising flyer they saw at a local Starbucks. The flyer was for information about hosting a foreign exchange student through the STS Foundation.
That one little flyer led to the friendship of the Santos family and Anne-Sophie Wagemblast-Frank, an exchange student from Denmark who has lived with them since summer.
Kylie Santos, a junior at Turlock High, discovered the flyer at Starbucks and later, on a whim, she wrote a letter of interest and filled out pages of applications.
Weeks later Kylie’s mom, Shellie Santos, an assistant principal at Brown Elementary, was at work when a STS representative called her for background check information.
“I was surprised because Kylie had mentioned it to me briefly, and she even asked me for my social security number, but I never thought to ask her why she needed it,” joked Shellie.
Part of the application process is a background check, where hosts families like the Santos must show they can provide a supportive environment for students, a bed and three meals per day.
“There really isn’t that much to it. It really all happened so fast and soon the only question was how long until Anne-Sophie got here,” said Shellie.
Shellie’s son and Dutcher Middle School student, Blake, hand-picked Anne-Sophie from a small pool of candidates because of her background, hobbies and love of the outdoors and sports.
Following a short trip to New York City, Anne-Sophie Wagemblast-Frank arrived in Turlock this past summer from Denmark.
“I was really interested in this chance to come to the United States because my mother was an au pair in Florida when she was 20,” she said in nearly perfect English.
Yes, she had some preconceived thoughts about the United States and what the people would be like. “TV gave me the idea that everyone was fat,” she said.
Anne-Sophie found out that is only partially true — just like her preconceived thoughts about California. “I thought of the beach and surfer guys, but then I got to Turlock and I live in the country with donkeys,” she said.
She is quick to point out that she loves Turlock and Denair because it reminds her of her hometown in a rural area of Denmark. She also had many complimentary things to say about the people here, especially at Turlock High.
“People are so nice; guys open doors and have chivalry and the girls complement each other. The school is so much bigger here and there is so much diversity,” she said.
Kylie joked that the reason guys open doors for her is because they like her; she is a foreign exchange student from Denmark and in just a few months at THS she became so popular that she was nominated for homecoming queen.
As far as the educational experience itself, things are definitely different here in Turlock compared to Denmark. Anne-Sophie said there are no sports in Denmark and there are no activities like a homecoming parade. Also grade levels work differently.
“High schools are more like a combination of junior college and high school, for example when I go back I will have three more years of school; but here I am a junior,” she said.
For the Santos family the experience of having Anne-Sophie in their lives has been rewarding. Since her arrival they have taken her to Disneyland, Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz, Yosemite, San Francisco and the Winchester Mystery House. These are all trips they do not necessarily have to take, but they wanted to because of the opportunity to show Anne-Sophie the beauty of California.
Even more important though is the close friendship that has developed, especially between Kylie and Anne-Sophie.
“They are always together, like two peas in a pod,” said Shellie. “This has been such a great experience for both of them and all of us.”
By the time Anne-Sophie leaves Turlock she will undoubtedly see the Santos family not just as friends but as her second family. Following graduation, Kylie plans to travel to Denmark and spend some time with Anne-Sophie’s family.
To contact Jonathan McCorkell, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.